In celebration of our 25th birthday, we have been publsihing a 25 themed blog post on the 25th of each month. In our 6th edition, Gavin Galloway takes us back to some of the most promising FMCG innovations of 1986 – which have survived the test of time, which haven’t and what can we learn from them?
1986 was 25 years, or a quarter of a century ago; it was a time of extreme ferment and polarised emotions; it was a time of opportunity.
Mrs T is getting fully into her stride; UK and France announce plans to construct a tunnel under the Channel; Jeffrey Archer resigns as deputy leader of the conservative party over allegations concerning “ladies of the night”
The economy is growing; unemployment is running at over 3 million; Nissan begins car production at a new factory near Sunderland; economists warn that a new global recession is approaching (they were right, but 5 years too early).
Prince Andrew marries Sarah Ferguson; Alex Ferguson is appointed manager of Manchester United; famous sculptor Henry Moore dies aged 88; Phil Lynott, lead singer of Thin Lizzy, dies from multiple organ failure – the result of heavy drinking and substance abuse.
“Big Bang” financial deregulation; Maradonna’s “hand of god”; GSCE replaces ‘O’ level; the Metro Centre, Europe’s largest shopping complex, opens near Newcastle; the first case of BSE is reported; the Christmas Day edition of Eastenders is watched by an audience of 30 million; Sir Cliff tops the charts with “Living Doll”; the Sun alleges that comedian Freddy Starr ate a live hamster.
So that was the state of the nation in 1986; but what was going on in the world of FMCG innovation?
Here are the “FMCG Innovation Top 20” for 1986 (the year The Value Engineers began operation), as published by SuperMarketing magazine:
Sadly, we have to report that to the best of our knowledge only 6 of the original 20 have a significant presence on the supermarket shelf in UK 2011. The 6 winners are highlighted in blue.
Survival is tough : 30% overall survival rate over 25 years among products picked by experienced grocery buyers as the best of the crop.
Next, we will look more closely at the winners and losers…
For our purposes a “winner” is simply a brand/product from the 1986 list of top innovations that has survived up to the present; the “losers” are the rest – consigned to the dustbin of marketing history.
Looking across the listing, a number of factors stand out:
- Substantial number of new brands and major sub-brands : new brands – Options, Delight, Wisk, Hippo, Mighty White, 54321; major sub-brands – Hob Nobs, Menu Master, Natural Choice, Biarritz
- New brands are from large organisations (Options excepted) – in contrast to the current situation where new supermarket brands are often niche players (GU, Dorset Cereals, Tyrrells etc )
- The winners come from global megacorps (P&G, Unilever, Coca Cola) or from small organisations (Premier Brands, Wander)
- In contrast the losers have a substantial component of large UK organisations that lacked global scale – RHM, United Biscuits, Northern Foods, Cadbury-Schweppes, Beecham. It is perhaps significant that of these only Northern Foods still exists as an independent entity (at time of writing)
- There is evidence of over-complex branding : Birds Eye Steakhouse Prize Steaks, Brooke Bond PG Tags, Maxwell House Master Blend
This may well have been a contributory factor in the failure of these offers.
Next we will look more closely at the winners, to try to unpick the secrets of their success…